The cheapest ski resort in Europe? It’s on the Côte d’Azur

With its reputation for fast cars and superyachts, the Côte d’Azur seems the unlikely home of Europe’s most budget-friendly ski resort. Yet that’s exactly where you’ll find value for money this winter, according to a new ranking by French holiday rental site Holidu, which has placed a little-known ski station, just over an hour from Nice, in the top spot.

Taking into account the daily lift pass prices and the average cost of accommodation per person per night, little Roubion-Les Buisses pipped other resorts in France, Greece and Montenegro to the post with a day’s ski pass and lodging setting visitors back at only €40 (£34) per person.

Skiing on the Côte d’Azur

If you never heard the words “snow” and “Côte d’Azur” mentioned in the same breath before, you’re not alone. France’s famous Mediterranean coastline remains blissfully off-piste as a ski destination to all but its residents, the hardiest of whom wear the fact they can swim in the morning and be on the slopes by lunch as a badge of pride.

The concept of the Côte d’Azur was born out of the hivernants, or winter tourists, who flocked to this sunny stretch of southern France from Britain, Northern Europe and beyond for its warm winter days and clear blue skies in the late 19th and early 20th century.

These mild conditions carry over to the ski slopes, which are all within an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Nice Côte d’Azur Airport.

Recent news that Nice is a front-runner to co-host the 2030 Winter Olympics along with the French Alps means that the secret will soon be out, however. While the majority of the skiing events would be held in the traditional Alpine resorts such as Meribel-Courchevel, Nice would host skating events, while Roubion-Les Buisses’ neighbour, Isola 2000, would be the setting for the snowboard competition.

Isola 2000 could host snowboarding events at the 2030 Winter Olympic games (Photo: Wirestock/Getty Images)
Isola 2000 could host snowboarding events at the 2030 Winter Olympic games (Photo: Wirestock/Getty Images)

The Côte d’Azur ski scene is much more low-key than its Alpine neighbours: the biggest ski station, Auron, has 135km of slopes, compared with Courchevel’s 600km. There are no Michelin-starred restaurants or luxury hotels; instead, a family-friendly feel and untrammelled alpine charm.

What to expect in Roubion-Les Buisses

In a word: small. But it’s hard to argue with the price-quality ratio on offer, especially for weekend ski breaks or as an add-on to a winter sun trip to Nice. The €20 (£17) daily ski pass is almost half the price of other ski resorts in the area and gives access to 20 runs, including two blacks, covering a total ski area of 30km and a maximum altitude of 1,920m.

Expert skiers can expect to master the terrain easily, while beginners can build confidence on the green slopes that spoke out from the base of the village. For families with young children, a dedicated luge area is a welcome break from baby slopes. Ski lessons start from €27 (£23) per hour and can be booked at the tourist office.

At the base of the village is a scattering of pretty, pitched roof chalets. Among them, the family-run Hotel Restaurant Le Chalet des Buisses (doubles from €60/£51) is the best bet for rustic rooms, food and equipment hire.

Just below the slopes, in the perched village of Roubion itself, self-catered gîte accommodation starts from €450 (£386) a week for four people — although you need to book well in advance to secure the best deals.

Skiers on the station's quiet slopes at the top of Tête du Pommier (Photo: Supplied)
Skiers on the station’s quiet slopes at the top of Tête du Pommier (Photo: Supplied)

The big drawback to Roubion-Les Buisses is its sporadic opening times. One of the last ski resorts on the Côte d’Azur to open for the season, it is preparing to get under way just in time for Christmas on Saturday 23 December. The resort will stay open for French school holidays over Christmas and again in late February and early March; outside of these periods, it will open only at weekends.

The other Côte d’Azur resorts

The main resorts get busy in French school holidays and with weekend day-trippers from the coast, but otherwise flow blissfully free of crowds.

The original ski station on the French Riviera, Valberg is family-friendly and has environmental credentials as one of only seven resorts in France with two Flocon Verts (Green Snowflake), a label that recognises a commitment to sustainable development. The daily ski pass price for the 23/24 season is €37 (£32).

Isola 2000 lacks the alpine charm traditionally associated with ski resorts – its stark, 1970s-era apartment blocks seem to cast a permanent shadow over the centre of the village. Yet it earns top points for the quality of slopes; from some you can even see the Mediterranean Sea on clear days. A day on the slopes costs €40 (£34).

Auron has the charm missing at Isola, great slopes to match and the best party atmosphere, with slope-hugging bars such as Les Canailles drawing a trendy crowd from the coast and beyond. This season, it will cost you €40 (£34) for a day skiing the Côte d’Azur’s largest ski station.

Chalets in Roubion les Buisses (Photo: Supplied)
Chalets in Roubion les Buisses (Photo: Supplied)

A final, budget-saving tip

From Nice, the Bus 100% Neige ski bus serves Isola 2000, Auron and Roubion for €14 (£12) return. Tickets need to be reserved at least 24 hours in advance online.

For more, see stationsnicecotedazur.com and roubion.com/loisirs-dhiver/ski-alpin